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Interview with Robert K. Woltz [6/26/2002]

Harold B. Phillips:

Oral history interview of World War II veteran conducted by Harold Phillips for the Hanley Library Archive and the Winchester Frederick County Historical Society. Today is June the 26th, 2002. The veteran is Judge Robert Woltz.

Robert K. Woltz:

I was born January 31, 1919 in Salem, Virginia in the home of my grandmother. I lived in Salem, not in her home all that time, for about three years as best I can recall when my family moved to Luray, Virginia and I entered first grade there, but before I finished the first year of school there we moved to Ridgeway, Pennsylvania which is in the western, northwestern part of Pennsylvania about halfway between Buffalo and Pittsburg and not a very attractive part of that state. Cold, overcast, not very nice.

But from there we moved to Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada when I was about ten, I think, and that would have been a delightful town about a hundred, a hundred and fifty miles northwest of Toronto on the Great Lakes, on Lake Huron or Georgian Bay which is about a forth of Lake Huron and they're pleasant people, mostly Scottish descent and a very delightful place.

We liked it much better than Pennsylvania. Just moving around was due to my father's business and the opportunities that appeared. In 1932 the Depression hit and he was in the canning business and the canner he was working for most, a great deal of his product was exported to the United States and the __+ went into effect and cut down free trade and practically did away with his cannery business. He was out of work. We moved back to Salem to stay with my grandmother. And it was a very trying time for him, the whole family. And at least he finally was able to get a small job in an entirely different line of work. And I was in the seventh grade when we got back to Salem in 1932.

I remember very well the campaign, Roosevelt's first campaign. And the convention and the election and so forth, all the excitement to me. And one of the great things I regret missing in my life is I wanted so bad because I had put up posters for FDR and that sort of thing, was not being able to go to the inauguration. That was one of my childhood sour oats so to speak.

Then I continued to live in Salem. Graduated from high school there. Andrew Lewis High School which was a brand new high school and a very good one for those days. And entered the University of Virginia in 1936 and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1940 and entered law school with my next oldest brother. And finished law school in 1937 and I followed in his footsteps so to speak and in 1941, December the 7th, I remember quite well, we had had war scares before which hit my social fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi pretty hard because we had a number of so called Navy Juniors in there whose fathers were officers in the Navy or Marines and we'd had war scares before.

They thought maybe their fathers might have to go into combat and so forth. On December the 7th I woke up late because frankly I had been out on a big party Saturday night which I did with not regularity, but with some frequency and I was sleeping it off and so forth and then I came downstairs and I heard the radio that the Japs had attacked Pearl Harbor and it was a bombshell for all of us.

Well, I guess, everybody in the whole country. It came at a particularly bad time for law students because our examinations, at that time I believe our first exams, were in December just before Christmas holiday, so it was a little difficult as you can imagine studying for examinations under those circumstances knowing that you might have to go and for sure lots of your friends would be going, but I got through that and then got into the spring and my draft number was called and I prevailed upon my draft board to let me finish. I had about two, maybe three months of my second year of law school left. To let me finish that second year because in those days you finished two years of law school you could take the Bar examination and it was important to me not only to finish that second year, but take the Bar exam and then know that no matter what happened from there on I was a member of the Bar and could practice and many students didn't -- not many, but some didn't even bother to come back their third year because they could practice law, but I intended to come back.

Well, anyhow they were very kind and deferred me until I can get through taking the Bar exam which was in early July. It's always given in Roanoke, the summer exam at least, which was close to home and very shortly after that, within two days, I reported to the induction station and I had for many years from the time I was about twelve or thirteen had been extremely myopic, very myopic, so got over to the induction station in Roanoke and they turned me down because of my eyes.

Well, that upset me because there was a war going on and by golly I wanted to be part of it, so I immediately left the induction station and went to Escaleski (ph) Optical Company which is a big optical, biggest one in Roanoke in those days I guess and bought a wall chart because I had heard from some of the Navy Juniors in my fraternity some people had gotten into the Navy by taking a series of eye exercises, so that's the first thing I did when I left the induction station is go buy a wall chart and took it home with me. And was going to use it and try to build up my eyes so I could get in.

Well, along about five o'clock that evening I think it was, got a phone call from the induction station saying they had accepted me after all. To report over to go to the induction station at Camp Lee. I got a little vial, a little glass vial and put some dirt from my front yard in it figuring well if I never came back at least there would be a little bit of Virginia with me. And went over there and I was classified a B classification I think, as I recollect, which meant that you couldn't go overseas. You were physically not capable of going overseas.

I rode the train from Roanoke to what was then Camp Lee, now Fort Lee which was the induction station for Virginia, I think Maryland and I don't know what else. And I went through the procedure of taking the intelligence tests and this, that and the other. And was kept there as part of the induction station crew interviewing new inductees as to their educational attainments, work experience and so forth, supposedly, at least to try to find out which branch of the army to put them in. And that wasn't too bad. I'd had a couple friends of mine who'd been there ahead of me and stayed for a time in the induction station.

And I tell you the people who came in the induction station they had all kinds of conditions. I remember seeing even one in a wheelchair when he came in and on crutches and so forth. I guess they were going to treat them in the army hospital and get them up to speed or something. I don't know what. So after I had been there for maybe six months about, my brother had gone and served with a fellow who had gone into the Counter Intelligence Corps and my having been to law school and everything it looked like I might be fitted for that, so I made an application for that and was accepted into it and went to Washington. And that was about an induction in my company's induction station.

How did you get this job and everything because it sounded, you know, very hush-hush and super duper and so forth. I got virtually no basic training. I got a little manual of arms and how to march and turn and so forth, but very little -- very little because they didn't expect any of us to be in combat anyway. But I did get some and went to -- went to Washington and was in civilian clothes and stayed in a boarding house and ate my meals out and so forth and we were in the Counter Intelligence Corps.

While in Washington my main responsibilities were doing background checks on both army personnel and war department employees who might be placed in sensitive positions and so forth. Going around Washington and the Washington area I was in the so called military district of Washington which included the district and Fairfax County on to Alexandria and Montgomery and Prince George's in Maryland. That was a __ district to Washington, so I went throughout the district making background checks and so forth. And we had our offices up on -- it was off Connecticut Avenue near Calamaro Road. I can't remember the exact name. Little street, sort of a tucked away street and I -- also we did some surveillance work.

I remember one case I worked on surveillance with a sort of fascinating, a very beautiful young woman, Jewish woman. Very, very pretty. Seemed to have some sort of entree into the White House and I think she was a war department employee. And so the Counter Intelligence Corps somebody was interested in how did she get this entree into the White House and with whom did she have access and who was she going to, you know, private life and so forth, so we had to do surveillance on her for several weeks. One unfortunate thing about being in the Counter Intelligence Corps, you seldom if ever know what the results of your work might be. It's kind of like police work. You know, a lot of boring details you have to do, but you have to do them because you might get a nugget somewhere or other. And you have to do a lot of boring stuff like surveillance and background checks and -- but as I say unfortunately you very seldom if ever know what the results of all your labors might have been.

Well, after I had been there for six or eight months I was sent to, oh, I can't remember the name of it now. It's up in Maryland, near Cumberland, up in the mountains, for training which was training to prepare towards to going overseas. Actually, just before that I was sent to Goucher College in Baltimore because they had some training for us there in some of the Goucher College buildings and --

Harold B. Phillips:

That's CIC?

Robert K. Woltz:

Yeah, CIC. And then after that I went to Fort, I can't think of the name of it. Thirty or forty miles outside of Cumberland up in the mountains and we did things like, you know, go out in the woods and be left and have a map and a compass and find your way back and that sort of thing. Cold, praise the Lord, was it cold up there in those mountains in December and January. And that -- I sort of enjoyed that. I'm not a coffee drinker. Never have been. I seldom drink coffee. In the Army coffee was pretty stout. I didn't drink coffee in the Army, but I remember one cold, bitter day being out on one of these exercises and getting back to the camp after dark, six o'clock or something like that in the wintertime. Cold, bone through. I had myself a big cup of that Army coffee that sort of gets the blood circulating again, but that was -- I sort of enjoyed all that and then --

Harold B. Phillips:

Was that late '43?

Robert K. Woltz:

That was, yes, late '43. That was December and January of '43, I think. And next we went to Fort Mead as sort of a staging area. And I'd been to Fort Mead before. No, not Fort Mead. No, it's outside of Baltimore, a camp. I can't remember the name of that either. It was sort of an ordinance camp where they had tanks and things --

Harold B. Phillips:

Aberdeen Proving Ground?

Robert K. Woltz:

Aberdeen, I believe, it was. Anyway, I went there -- had been there the summer before and supposed to learn to ride motorcycles and drive a tank and big army ten wheelers and all that stuff which I did. Went through all that. But this time Fort Mead, because that was our staging area, then we got orders to go from Fort Mead to Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn ready to ship over. And I remember quite well we got on the ferry boat to take us around the tip of Manhattan and go up the Hudson River to pier, wharf and let us off at the end of the pier and we marched down. Then over on one side was a big ship, passenger ship. On the other side was a huge ship and I wanted to go on the bigger one. So we marched down the pier and we took a left turn and I went into the smaller ship. But it was a big ship. It was the Mauritania which had been a luxury liner before the war and I don't know how many we had on there. I've heard it's high. Fifteen thousand. I don't know whether we had that many or not. That sounds awfully high, but we were crammed in like sardines. And we --

Harold B. Phillips:

Were you as a unit or on your own?

Robert K. Woltz:

Well, a unit, yes, but a very loose unit. We were sort of put together in order to be shipped overseas. And I slept in a hammock. They had hammocks down in the boughs of the ship somewhere. And you'd sleep in your hammock during the day. We got two meals a day. Lye meat cooking which is terrible. And I can remember one of the crew members from the galley coming through with a big pan of -- and a big spoon banging on it and saying wakie, wakie, wakie, rise and shine. Then it was time to get up and supposed to eat. My gosh almighty, here we are in the high seas in the middle of the winter and the waves were huge. Some of the guys got deathly seasick. I did not. As a matter of fact, when we got on the ship before it left, just after it left, I felt a little rolling and everything. I said, well, a lot of this stuff must be metal, so I immediately got into a hot crap game and forgot about seasickness, the ship rolling and so forth. Never had a day of seasickness. But some of them were really deathly ill. It was terrible. I felt so sorry for them. Well, to give you an idea of what we had, one morning for breakfast, and I said we only had two meals a day, on the high seas, rough weather, kidney stew. Well, but I sort of enjoyed the trip. I'd go up on deck and I just loved to see the huge waves and the proud knifing through it of the ship. Well, it rolled some and everything, but it was fascinating to me. I just loved doing that. And we didn't have any convoy. It was a fast ship. And no convoy.

Harold B. Phillips:

They couldn't keep up, yeah.

Robert K. Woltz:

And they took a very circuitous route. And one of the crew members told me that we went down almost to Bermuda and then up. And we were down in warm waters because I would go to the rear of the ship and you could see the __+ in the water where the propellers had turned the water and so forth and it was warm. But then I think we headed north and the ship zig-zagged too, I don't know, every mile or something like that it would change course and it zig-zagged the whole way.

We had a British anti-aircraft unit on board, but we never -- so far as I know there was never any submarine scare or I don't remember seeing any airplanes either. Well, we went up north, north of Ireland and then came down, I guess, it's the Irish Sea and I remember one crew member -- see, the thing had been stripped down terrifically to put all these people in there, but they did have a grand piano in what had been a salon or something and I can remember this slightly built crew member every now and then would go in and play the piano.

He played beautifully and the one I remember he played particularly was the Warsaw Concerto. We got there and went in the Mersey River into Liverpool. We were going down the estuary and there was a town called, city called Birkenhead on the right-hand side as you go up the estuary. And I looked over there and I thought my Lord, Charles Dickens country for sure. There were lots of chimney pots, dray horses pulling wagons and so forth. And then Victorian houses and so on. And it just seemed like a page out of Charles Dickens or something. Well, we landed in Liverpool which is not quite as quaint. More of an industrial type city and pulled up to the -- and got docked there.

And I looked over the side, I'm way up on the main deck, looked way down and you hear these fellows who were trying to get the platform into the ship to unload the ship, not just the troops, but cargo I suppose. Well, I had heard about the British muddling through. Well, that was my first opportunity to see it. They had these long platforms, relatively narrow platforms with two small wheels underneath on the middle and they pushed the thing in and got the lead edge of the platform in. A couple of guys jumped in and they tried to pull it in, pull it in. Couldn't pull it in. The wheels were catching on the side of the ship. Finally, they muddled through and somebody decided lift the damn thing up and then push it and pull it in which they did, but as I say I'd heard about the British muddling through and that was a pretty quick example of it.

I'm being too verbose, I think. I think it wasn't the next day until we finally got off the ship. And it's a strange thing, maybe it's a, I don't know whether it's just me or it might apply to many people, as crowded as that ship was and dirty, I got body louse on me. The first and last one I ever had on that ship and two meals a day and very poor food, but in the two weeks, I guess, or ten days to two weeks probably, or maybe twelve days it took us to get over there, that had become home and I sort of regretted leave the old ship. I had become attached to it, but we did leave.

We marched through the streets of Liverpool and there I saw lorries operating with charcoal. I think they would get the gas out of the charcoal and then put that into the motor to run it and a number of horse drawn vehicles and so forth. It was sort of a revelation, eye opener. We got on a train, a whole bunch of us, not only my unit, but many more and went to an area near Birmingham, outside Birmingham and maybe if I think long enough, the name of it will come to me. It had -- it was a housing development or was going to be a housing development when the war came along and instead of turning it into a housing development they -- it became an army post and that's where we went, the American troops.

And right next to it or part of it, I guess, was a British military correctional facility where guys who got court-martialed and everything were sent and they had a pretty stiff regimen they had to follow. We stayed there and I got a pass after I'd been there, I think, a day or two. I got a pass, so I was interested in associating with the British civilian people and I went to a pub and I still remember the name of it. Called Parson and Clerks. Clerks in our language. Parson and Clerks.

And went in and got some of their beer which I liked much better than American beer actually and got to talking -- it was a working class area and got to talking to these limeys and asked them different questions and discussing things with them, getting to know them and what their attitudes were and so forth, but we got on the subject of Winston Churchill and I said something about what a great fellow I thought he was, great leader and so forth. They agreed with me heartily. Oh, yeah, Winny is wonderful. He's a great leader during wartime, but as soon as the war is over out he goes.

I thought to myself these are ingrates. You know, Churchill leads them through the war and they said as soon as the war is over we'll toss him out. Well, that's actually what happened. It really did. They weren't kidding. They meant that. Anyhow, I enjoyed that little outing. I didn't stay there very long. That was sort of an area you went to until you got assigned to something more permanent. And a group of us was shipped to, took a train to London to CIC's headquarters in London before, I guess, the whole European theater, or the western part of the theater anyhow, and I stayed in a very ritzy area. It was called Hyde Park Lane which is just off of Hyde Park.

In the nonwar times I suppose it was a pretty high rent district. A little short street, two or three blocks, something like that, but in the __ had been taken over for army barracks and so on. And so I had the experience of an excellent address, Hyde Park Lane address and everything. I think it was the second night I was there I had been going around London, didn't have too much to do. I'd report in and nothing to do so I'd tour London as best I could. I think it was the second night I'm there and we had a blitz raid. And of course everybody is supposed to run for cover and get into the air raid shelters and everything. Well, us newly arrived Americans, my gosh, we had never seen anything like that, so I and some others who lived in the same house and all that, we all went out in the street looking at the flares being sent up and lighting up to try to find the ack-ack exploding in the air and the bombs dropping on London and so forth. Didn't have any better sense than that, but at least we saw it. And I was after about a week in London and then I did go around and I saw, for example, I'm a great lover of Sherlock Holmes stories. And I went to 23 Baker Street or whatever it was. And there was actually a house with that number on it. And other places.

Harold B. Phillips:

You mentioned watching an air raid on London. Did any other debris or shrapnel land near you?

Robert K. Woltz:

No shrapnel or anything fell down while I was watching the raid. I was in London, I think, for not quite a week and then several of us in the unit were sent to southwestern England. We got on, I think, Paddington Station, I think, was the one you got if you were going to western England. And we went out there through Exeter and I remember stopping and being in Exeter for awhile and met a delightful lady at a Red Cross place. And I remember writing home saying she was like a Mrs. Miniver. And then we finally got into South Devonshire which is beautiful, beautiful country, perfectly gorgeous country, to a little place called Totnes, T-O-T-N-E-S, which is a very ancient town.

In fact, they have some Roman ruins there and it's on the upper reaches of the __ or the __ River, I guess it is. In fact, it's the -- that's the end of tide, where the tide comes up very slightly up to that point and we stayed in a nice little hotel or inn called the Royal Seven Stars, I believe, was the name of it. We ate there and then also slept there. And the food was, from the time I ate that British ship food, the food was terrible, but it was wartime under very strict rationing and the food was not very good and those people I found were not very good cooks either. I ate so darned much boiled cabbage that I vowed I would never eat boiled cabbage again.

Well, I have gotten back to it, but I had so much over there I just __+. And I remember there was a little Italian fellow, how he got there, I don't know, who worked at this hotel. And he caught a salmon in the river one day, so we had a wonderful time, all the hotel guests got to eat a little bit of the salmon. And that was quite a do. I never thought I would see the day when I wanted to eat at an army mess or navy mess or what have you, but I did then. I'd be out in my jeep doing my work and if I saw an army camp or installation in Dartmouth, not the __ River, the Dart River.

There was a -- had been a Royal Naval College or something there and the U.S. Navy had taken it over and I went in there to eat and it was just great to get to the army and navy mess to eat food instead of what the poor Brits were having to eat. One thing there was plenty of and I enjoyed was fish and chips. You could always get fish and chips and I did enjoy it.

Perfectly beautiful country. I remember going along the coastal roads, the light blue sky, deep blue ocean. Just brilliant, just green, green, green fields all around and blood red cliffs going down to the water. In the summer evening I liked the music and the summer evening driving along there's a bright sky and everything and a beautiful ocean and red cliffs and everything. I guess it must have made me think perhaps it was like the Riviera. Anyhow, I would start whistling Tchaikovsky's Capriccio __. It seemed to just go with the scenery.

And the people were very cordial out there in Devon. And it seemed to me, I don't know whether it was my imagination or not, excuse me. It seemed to me that their accent was not too far off from a real old Virginia type accent that I was used to. And the lady who ran the hotel was very nice. They were all very nice to us. And actually before I got there I was detailed out to a campaign exercise area and we slept in tents and it was in March and great Lord, I had gotten to England sometime in February. Cold. Not snow on the ground. Sometimes there would be a little snow flitting in the air, but damp. It was in a forest, in a big forest and so not much sun got to us. And I would have my blankets on and my clothes and I couldn't keep warm. That dampness just got to you. You'd wake up in the morning the whole frost all over you. All over your tent.

Well, we were doing security duty on that, seeing as nobody, unauthorized personnel were infiltrating and that sort of thing. And it was after that that I went to Devon. And enjoyed that tremendously. I never got over to Cornwall. There's a thing called a salt ash that's between Devon and Cornwall and I meant to go there. One of our fellows wanted to go over and play golf. He was from Mississippi and apparently quite well to do. And he and a group went over there to play golf, but I didn't go with them and I regret that I didn't take the opportunity to go to Cornwall. Another time a buddy was detailed to do something up in North Wales and asked me if I wanted to go along and for some fool reason I told him no and I wish I had because that would have been an experience. And he said he got up there and a lot of the people spoke Welsh instead of English.

I did -- I was fascinated by the moors, Dartmoor and drove up there with a friend of mine in a jeep. We had pretty free access to gasoline and maybe we abused it a little. I don't know. But drive up in the moors and see these little moor ponies which is supposed to be owned by the queen or something like that. And just really sort of haunting to get up there and see that moorish, the moor country. And I remember seeing one little green patch of grass up there. Occasionally, you could go along for miles and not see anybody or anything, maybe one of these ponies. On occasion though you would see a caulker's house or a cottage or something, but I was in the middle of nowhere. There was this patch maybe twenty-five by twenty-five of green grass. And it was a burial site and a monument and, I believe, the fellow, the best I can remember, his name was Penny Backer. Not Penny Packer. We used to have some of them around here. I believe Penny Backer.

And I think he had been in World War I and from the inscription as best I recollect he had loved the moor. So when he died they took him up there and buried him and probably took some good earth along so the grass would grow. And then they'd have -- on the moors they'd have these tors, what they called tors, T-O-R, which were big rock carvings and they were interesting. Well, I had a very happy time there.

And also I had experiences along the southern coast in a town called Taignton, T-A-I-G-N-T-O-N, I believe. And that was, I think, a first stop on the way out to Cornwall. We were supposed to stop there and do something for a few days and we stopped and had a, you know, hotel. They actually had palm trees growing there which was surprising. And the proprietor of the inn he was one of those sort of aggressive, pushy British or English types lived in the __. And they, well, they was going to give us Yorkshire pudding that evening and I'd heard of Yorkshire pudding, didn't really know what it was and I thought it was going to be something great. Well, it turned out to be the dullest stuff in the world. I don't care if I never see anymore Yorkshire pudding, but he thought it was going to be a great delicacy for us.

Another little place along the coast that I stayed, in fact, where I was when D-Day came along or on the eve of D-Day was Bricksham. And my sidekick, we worked in twos ordinarily. My sidekick was a very nice, intelligent fellow. He'd been a newspaper reporter in New York, I believe it was, and across a bay from Tor Bay it was called, was a place called Tor Key (ph). This was sort of, you know, a resort area during the summer. And our commander said one of us was supposed to go over to Tor Key (ph) to do something. And I told him it didn't make any difference. Told my sidekick it didn't make any difference to me. His name was Bryan. Last name Bryan. Irish. And he said, well, it didn't make any difference to him. It went back and forth like that. Neither one of us really cared. I think neither one of us really wanted to move out of the hotel we were in and have to find new digs somewhere.

Anyhow, finally he said, well, he'd go. And I said, well, that's all right. If you want me to go I'll go. He said, no, that's okay. I'll go. So he went and that night I guess the Germans had some intelligence that things were building up on the south coast and we were getting closer and closer to an invasion. They would send over a bomber, maybe just usually it's a single bomber, which would go over and drop a few bombs for distraction purposes and also set off a flare and then a rapid reconnaissance plane would come through and I was supposed to take pictures. Well, we had one of those while -- the night that he went over to Tor Key (ph) and he was killed. One of the bombs hit the little hotel where he was in. I didn't see him, but they tell me he didn't have a scratch on him. He was killed from the concussion of the explosion, so I don't know.

Well, if I had gone over there I might -- you might not be having this interview or -- but there's also a good chance that I wouldn't have stayed in that same hotel, so who knows. Anyway, I was very distraught, because he was a really good fellow. Intelligent. And we went on and I had a new sidekick then. A guy named Stein, Gearhart Stein. Pretty kraut sounding name. He was a good fellow too, but then -- oh, at Bricksham there was a fellow in the British Naval Intel. I think he was intelligence. He was in uniform. We were in uniform at this time. When I was in Washington I was in civies, but when I got over there I was in uniform. And he had sort of a longish face, young fellow and a beard and we nick-named him Jesus Christ because that's what he looked like. And he was a very delightful fellow.

We had very much fun with him in the few days we were there. My favorite place in England though was in South Devon. I really enjoyed that well. We were getting closer and closer to invasion time and nobody knew exactly when or whatnot, but we knew it was getting closer and we got assigned to doing different -- go out on different field exercises and so forth, do our security on that type of thing. And I was driving along the road one day and I never saw -- I mentioned I wanted to go to Roosevelt's inauguration. Well, I did see Roosevelt several years after that because they built a big VA Hospital just outside of Salem and he came to dedicate it. And I was there and saw him in his car driving up and I heard him speak, so I also saw president-to-be Eisenhower one time when I was driving along the road. I learned how to drive on the left-hand side pretty good by then. Nighttime driving was terrible because no lights. You had a little cross, two little slits crossed on each of your headlights, which I don't even know why you had those little slits because it didn't do any good. It was terrible driving at night.

Harold B. Phillips:

You had to look what was coming --

Robert K. Woltz:

Yeah, maybe -- some people get the hell out of the way. At any rate, I was driving along the road and here comes this big old lumbering, probably a Rolls Royce. And in the back seat you have General Eisenhower and General Montgomery. And I often think about the story I heard about Eisenhower and Montgomery. Course who was a pain in the neck to get along with and an egomaniac, I guess. Eisenhower says, well, now the schedule says we do this. And Montgomery said to him, Ike, where in the world did you learn to say schedule instead of shedyul (ph). And Eisenhower shot right back at him and said I learned it in shuel (ph) which I thought was a pretty quick comeback.

Anyhow, I've overlooked one place there was. I can't remember what it is now. I got myself diverted. Oh, well, we were -- the troops knew, everybody knew we were getting closer and closer. Didn't know when and I was in on, although I didn't get on the landing craft and so forth, but on the shore I was in on a number of these practice invasions that they had, you know. And nobody worried too much about it, but when the real one came along, believe me, although we weren't supposed to know, everybody knew the loading on that time, that was the real thing. I did and so did the guys getting on the boats, but these practice ones nobody was too concerned, but somehow or another they knew this is it. And I was there for D-Day evening at Bricksham which is on the channel and, of course, a lot more took off in places like South Hampton. That's a big port for it. And all these little places along the south coast were embarcation points and that's where I was at Bricksham for the embarcation.

And I knew where they were going and, you know, somehow I was real hep to be in the action, but I couldn't because of my eyesight and I wanted to be in the thick of it, but I must say that was so solemn loading those landing ship that I was sort of glad I wasn't getting on there with them. I really was. So -- one thing, back when my friend got killed, I was standing down by the harbor just watching this big flare and watching the ack-ack and all that kind of stuff. Standing up. All of a sudden here comes a bomb and it hits the water about fifty feet from me. Man, I hit the dirt and I stayed down till that little raid was all completely over and gone, I tell you. That really put me -- I hit the dirt then for sure. Then my unit and we usually had in my unit, we usually had, well, I never did know the table organization, but we had a colonel and a major and a captain or two and some first lieutenants and my unit of about ten men was headed up by a first lieutenant for our unit. We sort of lost track of the colonel and the major and all those other guys by that time, but we did see them when we got over to France.

We were dispatched to South Hampton because we were going to embark, go to Normandy and this was, I can't remember, but it was some weeks after D-Day. A few weeks after D-Day. After D-Day I got to Bristol for some reason. It was July, but my Lord it was cold and I had been to Bristol once before and in the meantime while I was over there I got to London two or three times and saw, of course, the devastation was tremendous. Just a whole block was nothing but rubble, you know, and it was really very, very impressive to see the tremendous destruction that had been done in London. Well, by this time the, what do they call them, V's.

Harold B. Phillips:

The buzz bombs?

Robert K. Woltz:

Buzz bombs, V2's were coming over. I was a little beyond their reach so they weren't hitting me, but one time while we were getting ready to go to South Hampton we were encamped outside of some town, I don't remember the name of it. And we were close enough that we heard V2 explosions, but I was never where V2's were landing. I had friends in Winchester although I had not lived there, but I had visited here two or three times and had friends, Stewart Bell and his wife were in Washington when I was and I used to see them and had breakfast with them every Sunday morning and so forth. But as we were on our way coming down to South Hampton we hit Winchester, England and that was sort of a treat to me. We didn't go through the middle of town, but we were sort of in the outskirts of town. We got up on a hill and I refreshed my memory on this because I read four letters I had written to Stewart Bell and his wife while I was in the Army just last night. It refreshed me a little bit. I could see Winchester Cathedral --

Harold B. Phillips:

Cathedral --

Robert K. Woltz:

Yeah, so that was kind of a little bit of a thrill going through Winchester, England so then we got to South Hampton. Got on a, oh, what did they call those, victory ship. Old freighter. And we lumbered over to -- highlanded at Utah Beach, not Omaha. Utah is a little farther south. What a sight. I mentioned seeing the sight of the destruction in London, but the sight there to disembark in Normandy was something I never think I'll see again. Hundreds of ships afloat and it looked to me like maybe hundreds of them sunk too with just the mast sticking up. It was mind boggling to see the concentration of floating and sunken ships there. Well, we didn't get off right away because it was still in Normandy at that time, this was about D plus twenty-eight or thirty, something like that, but it was still only a beachhead and so much stuff, men and material coming in they couldn't unload those ships right off. Well, we had had to cosmoline, I think, is what they used on your jeeps and then you'd have a spout going up from the carburetor and then you'd have to cosmoline all over the engine to keep the water out because we weren't going, you know, we weren't going drive right up on the dry land. No, had to go through water to get there. Well, I think it was the second day or could have been even the third day before we were able to disembark and we got in out of those jeeps all cosmolined up and saying a prayer that we hoped we had cosmolined them properly so they wouldn't stall in the water and they let us off in the water -- I think they -- the best I recollect, I should remember this, the best I recollect they off floated us from the victory ship, the men and the jeeps and so on on to landing ships. And then the landing ships would come in and let down the front end into the water and they'd get up as close as they could and then you had to make it fifty or a hundred, a hundred and fifty feet to go through the water before you actually got onto the shore. And we did that without --

Harold B. Phillips:

It worked, huh?

Robert K. Woltz:

Yeah, it worked. We didn't have any problems doing it. So we're in Normandy. As I say it was still a beachhead because they couldn't make too much progress in that country and I'll tell you why in a minute, at least my opinion, excuse me, why the -- and we went up a little road and there was a bus there. Both Omaha Beach, you've seen pictures of it, maybe been there, and Utah Beach, the same way, is fairly high bluffs. Seemed to me they weren't rocks. They were more soil than rock. They had a little road that went up from the beach up the bluff and we went up there and I remember seeing my first Frenchman and some excitement in the French people. They were just overjoyed to see us. I mean, they thought we were the greatest things that ever came down the pike and we were.

And, well, the first few nights there I spent in a foxhole. And that wasn't too comfortable. I graduated from a foxhole to a pup tent thrown up in a cow pasture. Well, the foxhole was too, but this was thick with agricultural country in there. They had lots of cows and lots of grazing both dairy and beef cattle and so I was in a pup tent with a bunch of other people, a whole lot of people. These fields sometimes were pretty good size. Some maybe forty or fifty acres or more. Sometimes they were smaller, but they're all surrounded by big hedgerows. And some of those things are ten feet tall and have trees a foot and a half in diameter growing out of them and brush all over them and everything. Well, that's why we couldn't break out is because it was just one hedgerow after another. Every field you went through, you break through a hedgerow you go a couple hundred yards maybe and then another hedgerow you've got to go through. It's terrific defensive thing.

And, well, this was all surrounded by hedgerows and, I think, I had -- I read in my letters that I had twenty-two cows as companions in my pup tent which meant you had to be damn careful where you walked. And one funny little thing, wasn't there very long, one funny little thing, a German plane would, something like a Cessna, you know, just a little hedge hopper, along about five o'clock in the evening there would come this little German plane flying very low and we called him Bedcheck Charlie, I think. And he would fly over to see what was going on down there. And he was so low the anti-aircraft couldn't do anything. And then the guys were taking pot shots at him. I don't know whether they ever hit or not. But that happened every evening. He would come by and see how we were getting along. Well, somebody in that outfit with a brilliant idea found an abandoned and partially destroyed railroad station in a place called Carentan. And we were getting kind of tired of sleeping on the ground in those damn pup tents. Of course, a lot of the combat troops that's all they did, but he sort of commandeered this thing and we all moved into the French gare or railroad station. As I say it was partially wrecked, but part of it was still standing. And we had cots with us or something. Folding cots, I think. And blankets and whatnot.


Robert K. Woltz:

And we were living off of army rations, C-rations and T-rations which are not extremely appetizing. We had been in England and eating with the civilian populous, eating very poor food I thought. Well, sir, we got a hold of a French woman who lived in the town. Not a very big town. Got a hold of her as a cook. And doggone I had heard and I guess everybody had heard about how good French cuisine is and so forth and how they can cook.

Well, she would take those old C-rations and T-rations and cook them up and put some spices or some little shallots that she had at home in a little herb garden or what have you. Man, most delicious food out of those old rations. The best food we had in a long time. Well, then we were sort of not doing a whole lot right then. Doing a little bit, going up and down the road and checking things out. And then we got split up into pairs mostly and were shot off different places to do things. One of the big things was checking to see if any refugees had come through the little __ villages there in France. See if the refugees had come through there and check with the local gendarme or the mayor or somebody to see if they knew who these refugees were that came through and were they suspicious and all that sort of thing. So my buddy, Gearhart Stein and I were sent to near Carentan; I think some of the paratroopers had landed there.

We were sent to St. Mere Eglise where the 101st Airborne had dropped. And had nice quarters there. I don't remember exactly what they were, but they were right next to what had been a German __ which is sort of like a USO. And that's where I found some of my artifacts like a German helmet and so forth. I guess they left in a hurry maybe. And it had been damaged some, but in whole it was okay. I had never studied French. Had no French training. The only French I knew were some of the common French phrases that were used from time to time. But I was very interested in learning French and so -- and we did have a lot of contact with the civilian population so I was picking up French and I tell you the best way I found, I've become a firm believer if you want to learn a language, don't worry about the grammar and everything, get amongst the people and talk and listen.

And talking and listening I found best was with children because they didn't speak as rapidly and their vocabularies were more simple and I picked up a lot just talking from kids and from adults too, but I did better with the kids because they expressed themselves more simply and they spoke more slowly. I remember one time, I got a big laugh out of these two French women I was talking to them with my little French and I wanted to say petit or little, but I said __+ which also means little, but in an entirely different sense. Oh, I remember they just cackled and hollered and laughed because I said __ instead of petit.

So I was picking up French. And in this -- at St. Mere Eglise this fellow Roget and it wasn't his wife, just his child companion named Odette and she was pretty cute looking chick too. Well, Roget got it into his head that I knew he had a double hernia apparently very bad and he got it in his head that I would have pull enough I could go to a medical installment of some sort and get him a hernia guard. Well, I tried to explain to him, my Lord, they don't need them in the army. If you got a hernia they don't take you in the army or they do and operate on you and get you over your hernia, but he kept talking, as a matter of fact, he intimated very strongly, more than intimated, I guess, if I wanted to spend the night with Odette that would be fine.

And she was a cute looking chick, real attractive and that seemed to be all right with her too. I declined the offer though, but he did -- he did get some really good __ for me.

In Normandy people drank really more cider than they did wine. They didn't have vineyards, but they had a lot of apple orchards and they made a lot of cider and some of it pretty good and hard, but not a great deal of wine, but Roget uncovered some very good Bordeaux, red Bordeaux for me and I enjoyed that to no end. So St. Mere Eglise -- oh, yeah, we got a French interpreter. His English wasn't too good. Slight fellow, slight build. Young and little more on the lighter side. So many people in Normandy, you know, they were descendants of the Norsemen. And a lot of them looked quite similar to the British and many of them were tall and sandy-haired and ruddy complexion and so forth, but some of them in that area were more what I had pictured being Frenchmen. Being dark and more dark haired, dark-eyed and not as bright complexion. And he was one of those types. And we ran in somewhere or other, we ran into this gal who was a countess. And a countess of what, I don't know. Well, he just froze up when we came in contact with her because she had apparently had the reputation of having been a little too cozy with the German and he had no use for the countess.

And at this time too in a lot of these towns you would see the women with the shaved heads. They were supposed to be the women who were prostitutes or what have you who had consorted with the German troops and which to me was kind of unfair because a lot of the French people and I'm sure had dealt with the Germans and so forth, but these were the only ones that got their heads shaved apparently, but I saw a fair number of these women running around with shaved heads.

And then we left there. And I'd go to these little villages __+ and check to see what was going on with the refugees, this, that and the other. And make out as best I could, but almost no matter how small a town was the norm would be to have a couple of hundred people in them probably, something like that, you could almost always find one person that knew a little bit of English. They might not know much, but with your little bit of French and their little bit of English and plenty of sign language and so forth you could get along all right. Well, then we went to a place called Torrezza la-foret which is a little village right on the edge of this great big forest. I think the French government owned the forest.

To cut down trees you had to get licensed and all that sort of thing. The one thing I remember about it is the old women with a big load of baguettes on their back and I presume they were licensed to go out into the forest and pick up baguettes and they'd bring them home for firewood. It was a beautiful forest. It was a coniferous forest, I believe. And that was a fairly nice town. We stayed in a schoolhouse there. And I hadn't stolen anything since I was a small child, but I thought it would be nice to have some vegetables, so I went into somebody's garden next to the schoolhouse and pulled up some root vegetables, carrots and, I think, some radishes and I don't know what else and brought them back. We did our own cooking. We hadn't gotten a French woman to be our cook there. And cooked them up and it served me right for going out and stealing these vegetables because the next day I was sick as a horse, but someone told me, said, well, don't worry about taking his vegetables. He was too friendly with the Germans anyway. And I remember getting our hair cut there and thinking by golly I really am catching my French because I went into the barber and sat down. Was sitting in the barber chair and there was a young boy, I guess, the barber's son came in. A teenager or something. Came in and the barber was cutting my hair and he said "fermes la porte" and I understand what he meant. Fermes la porte. Close the door. And I'm going, damn, I'm making progress with my French.

And I've had haircuts in England too. And you go somewhere and sit up on the high stools and they had barber chairs like we did and some guy would whack away at your hair. And I think it's when I was at Torrezza la-foret I got a shower, first shower I'd had in a long time. It was an army shower they'd set up. It was pipes with holes in them, a whole bunch of them covered couple hundred square feet, I guess, and they had these pipes criss-crossed and made a checkerboard thing and had a wooden, a little moveable wooden pull for on and off. And you take off your clothes, dump your clothes and grab a bar of soap and they had this water running so you'd get under those pipes that had holes in them and get yourself a good bath. Get a good shower. That's the only one of that type I think I ever had, that I can recall anyhow. Then of course a lot of other troops were doing the same thing as I was doing. So we -- then we get to the most delightful part of my army career. We were sent by mistake to a place called La Fleche which means the arrow. It's on the Loire River.

So -- and Gerry Stein and I were going there and he was driving and we'd had information that the Germans were in the Loire Valley. And that's where we were, so by gosh we were really looking and we were the only jeep, we were traveling by ourselves and practically no traffic on the road. And I said, well, I haven't had any combat, but maybe having maybe the Germans jumping us. We're going to give them as much fight as we can. So I got my grease gun. We each had a so called grease gun which is a sub machine gun. It looked kind of like a grease gun. 45 caliber and we each had a carbine, so I got my carbine and put it beside me and got my grease gun out and unlimbered it, ready to fire it if I had to. We never did, thank God, we never did see any Germans or they didn't see us. And we found out later there are two Loire Rivers. One has an E on the end and one has no E on the end. Well, the one where the Germans were was in the other __+ but where the Germans supposed to be was in the other Loire Valley where we weren't, so we got to La Fleche and we'd been sent there by mistake. Wasn't a thing in the world for us to do. And so we just enjoyed life out there about three or four days, I think. Stayed in the local hotel which was a nice little hotel, drank wine for breakfast, lunch and dinner and started picking up more on my French. I even got complimented.

I went over to the stationery store to buy some ink and paper I think and I asked for it and the clerk said, oh, monsieur, vous parlez francais tres bien. You speak French very well, which that propped me up a great deal.

It was something we'd walk along the street, this was a town of, I don't know, eight, ten thousand maybe, wasn't a big place, but it was bigger than a lot of those villages. And the little French boys would follow us around and some of our other crew had come in too so there must have been maybe six or eight of us there. These little French boys would follow us around and gawk at us like we were conquering heroes and the populous greeted us like we were heroes and the girls would give us rose buds and one thing or another. And we'd just promenade up and down the street with our 45's slapping at our hips and a crew of little old boys following along behind us. And of course if you had candy that was great with them too and I read in my letter, I remember this, because after candy they'd ask cigarette pour papa and I knew damn good and well that I give them a cigarette and they was going to go around the corner and smoke it instead of taking it to papa.

So -- and one little fellow in particular, just a handsome little old boy. I think he was eleven. Eleven and a half, something like that. Blue-eyed, blond and well built and he took me to his father and his father had been a professor of language at some military institute that had been in the town. And his father had been educated in France and also at the University of Edinborough in Scotland, so his English was pretty good. He had a fairly strong accent, but he had a great vocabulary and everything. And became friends with the family. His wife was very pleasant. They had about five children, I think, and this boy was sort of in the middle. I mean, they were from four to fourteen, something like that.

And so he became my constant companion. He rode in with the jeep and wherever I'd go he would go and I would teach him English and he would teach me French. And just became very attached to him and his family too. I remember taking some of my stuff over there and giving it to them. The one thing I took we had toilet paper and rations and things that we could use and I grabbed up two or three of those, among other things. I don't know what else I took them and presented them to Madame Fromier. As I remember she looked and she said, oh, papier hygienique. I guess maybe they didn't have toilet paper anymore. Had to use the newspaper or something. But she was very delighted to get it.

And he, the father at one time got down a book of English poetry, got all his children gathered around and wanted me to read some of the poetry. He wanted them to hear what someone who spoke English what it would sound to read English poetry. And I recall he asked me, he said what do you miss. I told him what I was doing in the United States similar to the French securite. And so he asked me what I missed most. I remember telling him family, friends and music.

So we had a great time there with my little friend, Jacques and I envisioned, you know, maybe after the war was over having him over here, maybe send him to school here. So we left and I did at one time, something I've forgotten exactly when, might have been, no, it wasn't when I was at La Fleche. It was probably when I was at either Carentan or Torrezza la-foret had contact with a type of French gendarme, not the one in the city, but the one who did rural work. I suppose I was -- he was supposed to contact me or I he and then we met together and I remember him taking me to a French bistro and setting me up to a drink __+.

In Normandy, apple country they not only made cider, but brandy with ?covered oats? which was very, I'm telling you, it was a powerful brandy. They would have a little glass of it and sip, you know, and those crazy Americans they would get a glass and drink the whole thing. I had done a bit of drinking in my college days, but I think that's about the stoutest drink I'd ever had was this ?covered oats?. And you go along and people would offer it to you if you stopped and asked directions or whatnot. I remember too in Normandy particularly they had these little shrines, a crossroads frequently or it'd be a crucifix or a cross or something like that.

I remember asking a French woman I said, I asked her how you get to such and such a place and it would be that way and au droite __. Just meant I was supposed to take a right turn, so I was getting along pretty good with my French. And one thing that happened in Normandy and I've forgotten where I was exactly, ran into two Spaniards. They apparently were -- had been in the Spanish Civil War on the side of the -- well, the side that was against Franco. Loyalists. They were two Loyalists and then, you know, Franco had taken over everything so they had escaped into France. Were refugees in France. And I had studied a little Spanish so I could converse with them a little bit and saw them for two or three days and got to know them and then eventually they said goodbye and they faded into the sunshine or the sunset or something or other. There's another town before I got to La Fleche, my chronology isn't too good here, called Courtier. And I forgot the name of it until I read my letter last night. And a couple of us, two, three, four of us stayed at the house of the mayor. And it had a wall around it and everything and I remember I learned the word key there because she gave me a key. Had to have a key to get through the gate that would have let you into the courtyard and then in the house. She said le cle and handed it to me and I knew that was key. I learned a new word. Well, she was a very nice lady.

We didn't have a great deal of contact with the mayor and his wife. We had some. I think we ate there too. I can't remember. And then I remember this from my letter that I just read. That I was very fond of bonbon and we would have some candy something or other, so I would present Madame with a bonbon where immediately we were offered some brandy. I thought it was a pretty damn good trade off. While I was there there'd been a big battle. Wasn't too awfully far away and these trucks came through with dead German soldiers. I mean, it was really pretty impressive. Stacked like cord wood in these big army trucks, what do they call them, ten wheels, I guess. And all the Frenchmen were out on the street and this was about twilight and a bunch of French people on the street shouting and shaking their fists, "abola boche," down with the boche, down with the Germans.

But there must have been a half dozen trucks came through there with -- just stacked full with dead German soldiers and I tell you, that was pretty impressive. I forgot to mention that while I was still in Normandy I went by, because you know a lot of people had been killed there, I went by a military cemetery that they'd started and that was pretty darn impressive too because they got the crosses laid out geometrically. You look this way and you're looking right straight down. Look this way in a diagonal and there's crosses and that was -- it was a pretty good size and they were still filling it up too. And that was pretty impressive. And I don't know whether that made me feel like I wanted to get in that combat or not. Anyhow, I think it was when we were in Torrezza la-foret I went to a restaurant to get lunch. Funny little thing, now people go out to eat in a restaurant and if they can't eat it all doggie bag it home. Well, before the war people didn't do that. They didn't go out to eat very often and if they did they either ate everything they had on the plate or it was considered a little bit gauche to take something home.

So the first time I ever saw this was in that restaurant was a young woman sitting by herself eating and I didn't sit next to her. I think maybe I spoke to her, but we didn't -- maybe passed a few words, but I didn't strike up any great conversation with her. When she finished her meal she took out her handkerchief, you know, what she hadn't eaten and she very nicely put it in her handkerchief and tied it up and took it with her. And that had never struck me. That's the first time I ever saw anybody take something home from the restaurant that they didn't eat, but maybe food was scarce and didn't want -- maybe she didn't want to leave a crumb.

Now in Normandy pretty much there was plenty of food. It was strictly agricultural country and I don't think the people were hurting there for food. So I left La Fleche and my little friend and all our group, ten, unit of ten, five units, including first lieutenant were going to Paris. Of course, I was anxious to get to Paris. We wouldn't be -- Paris had been freed by that time. It hadn't been freed too long. So he got on the road. He was -- first place he wasn't supposed to get on. Supposed to be strictly for supply vehicles called red ball highway. Came from the, probably from the beaches because the corps were not, by that time they were operating like __ within some operations. Not fully. They were still offloading stuff on the beaches. And this red ball highway ran from there to the front and it was one way. One way traffic. And you could come back on some other road with these big army ten wheelers. And they say we weren't supposed to be on it, but that was the quickest way to get to Paris so we took that road and I was driving. And my -- I was the second jeep. He was first, I was second. And my jeep had a very heavy trailer on it. Small trailer, but we had the field safe which weighed a lot and we had about three, four boxes of ammunition, 45 caliber ammunition which is very heavy and other stuff. And in the back of our jeep we had duffle bags and things piled way up to the very top fortunately. So he was going pretty fast. He didn't have any trailer on his and I was trying to keep up with him.

Well, the road -- with all the traffic the road had a lot of potholes. The shoulders were very broken and so forth. So I was in the process of passing one of these ten wheelers when the guy apparently saw a pothole or something up ahead, so he moved over to the right. Well, there wasn't anything for me to do but to move over to the right too or else get creamed by him. When I moved over to the right and hit the rough shoulder everything broke loose. The guy in the jeep behind me said the trailer just bounced up in the air and turned and when it turned over it just turned the jeep over too, so ended up on its -- the jeep ended up on its top. And I say fortunately we had the -- had it piled up in the back because that gave just enough angle with the stuff piled up in the back to the, I guess, to the front of the jeep end up leaving me scrunched down rather than be killed or to my old buddy, Gerry Stein. He was thrown clear and not hurt very much, but I was in there and my helmet was mashed down. I couldn't see anything and I tried to get out one way and I couldn't. And I tried to get out the other way and I couldn't. I said, well, I'll just stay here and let them pull it off of me. And then I thought, my gosh, suppose the thing catches on fire, so I got myself out of it. I pulled myself out and I had broken both bones in my forearm very badly and had mashed these three fingers. The middle finger was -- the bone was sticking out the end of it. And in a great deal of pain and...


Robert K. Woltz:

What I believe happened was that when the jeep turned over on its top and everything got mashed down as I say fortunately enough stuff in the back to keep it up so it didn't kill me, didn't break my neck or back. I think my steering wheel got mashed up against the dashboard you might call it and caught my -- and the steering wheel got mashed, it got pushed up against that and caught my three fingers and that's why I couldn't get out of it. I was -- my fingers were caught between the steering wheel and the dashboard, but I got out of there. And, of course, I got out and my arm was flopping around and I knew something bad there. And the next jeep that was behind us the fellow stopped and some man, he was a major drove by and he stopped his jeep and he must have had some first aid training or something. He got a couple of pieces of wood and made a splint and put it around my arm and wrapped it up with something. Well, it was the most pain I've ever had in my life. It was pretty bad.

And so finally the French people were all there. My gosh, they were offering to do -- fixing eggs for me, this, that and the other. Getting some cake or bread, milk, you name it. They were offering me all kinds -- of course, at that time I really didn't want any. But they -- finally this French lady asked me to come into her house if I wanted and to lie down on a bed, so I did and my pal named Pickney great old boy, he went in with me. Of our group he was the only one that was fluent in French. I think his mother had been French, so he could converse with them, so he went in with me and I laid down on this bed and I remember it hurting something awful. I think it was mostly my fingers more than my arm. And I was drumming my feet on the bottom of the bed because of the pain trying to -- and I asked him I said am I holding up all right. I don't want to break down from pain. He said, you're doing okay. Well, it took, according to the letter I read last night, it took four hours before an ambulance got there. And the medic looked at my fingers and they spread a lot of sulphur on it. That was the big drug at that time. Penicillin was just coming in. They put a lot of that stuff on me, wrapped them up and everything.

Took me to a field hospital. And I got to the field hospital. I guess they gave me a shot of something to ease the pain. Been on the operating table under a tent. You know, strictly a field hospital and operating table under the tent. This young medical fellow was there and he was going to fix me up, put a cast on and try to -- and trim up my fingers and try to fix me up some. And I was talking to him and he said -- and here I was, I was a corporal, but we didn't wear any stripes because that would be a giveaway. If we didn't wear stripes they might think -- they didn't know what rank we were, so we didn't wear any rank insignia at all. So, I guess, he thought I was a buck private, so he was talking to me and said where did you learn all those big words anyway. And that kind of miffed me.

And I looked at him, I said I've had almost as much education as you have. And I don't remember saying anything to him, but I was glad I think they put me under along about that time. When I woke up and I didn't feel too bad and I had my arm in a cast and within a day or two left the field hospital. I think maybe it was the next day I left the field hospital and was flown back to England in, I think, they were C4's, that was sort of the army work horse, traffic horse plane and I'd never ridden in an airplane before. Not many people had back before the war other than, you know, in commercial airliners __+. That's the first time I'd ever been in an airplane. That didn't bother me being in the airplane. I thought it was an adventure. Well, they had a long row, a bench really on this side of the plane and another long row on that side taking all these people back to England with degrees of injuries, wounds, what have you. And we landed in England and went to Station Hospital, real hospital and stayed there and was treated. Before I get to this, I recall I was talking about wearing clothes, what kind of clothes.

In Washington we were in civilian clothes because they didn't want us to go around showing our rank. In the navy, the NI, the NIS, I think, Naval Intelligence Service, shoot, all their men were commissioned. The ensigns and the lieutenants, junior grade and __+. Old General Hershey was head of the draft. He tried to get some of our fellows and threatened them, said I'm General Hershey and I order you to tell me what your rank is. And, of course, they never did because they were in civilian clothes and wouldn't tell him. While I was in Washington going way back I had summertime out at Fort Belvoir, an engineering installation. By golly, what did I do, I ran into a kid I'd gone to high school with and his family knew mine and he had been a friend of mine and he was a captain, I think, in the engineers. And he was so glad to see me and, you know, I couldn't tell him I was actually in the army. I think he thought I was FBI or something like that, but it was nice to see him, but that's -- and he felt I was in the OSS or something like that. By God, here he was a captain and I was a corporal, but that's the way it went and one time in Washington I got so upset I couldn't do anything about it, but this was an older man and he saw me and, I think, maybe I had to interview him, ask him about something. At first he says, well, you're a young fellow. You would be a good one for the army, like I was some damn __ or something, you know, a draft dodger and I thought to tell him, why you old goat, I'm in the army and been in the army. But fast forward to the hospital in England and my middle finger -- well, my fingers looked awful, but my middle finger particularly looked bad.

I've got a lot of skin grafts on it now, but as I say the distal phalanx was sticking out and where the pink, where the nice pink flesh should be was all kind of gray and gooey looking, infection. And so the surgeon and I wish I knew that man's name. I wish I had written him after the war and thanked him, but people don't do those things so I didn't. Most people don't. Should have. Awfully nice fellow. Looked at it and said, well, we'll have to take that finger off or at least the end joint because that's so infected and everything. Well, that didn't suit me. And I was in a war where people's arms and legs were off and everything and I was worried about losing a damn little old end joint of a finger, but I was. That was my finger. Well, that's the joint of my finger. It belongs to me and I don't want to lose it.

So he thought a little while and said, well, the penicillin would come into use. In this country I think it was probably limited strictly to the military and it was very scarce to even them. And he said, well, I'll think about it. He said maybe I can give you a course of penicillin. And by golly he did. They wrapped my finger up, gave me the penicillin and I believe they gave it in shots in peanut oil because -- or some kind of oil because if they didn't it would be excreted from the body too fast, so they put it in this oil to make it stay in your system longer. So after they gave me a twenty-four hour course of that, once every five hours, six hours, something like that, four hours, I don't remember what and unwrapped the bandage and I was, of course, wondering what in the world. Boy, I tell you the flesh was just as pink and nice as it could be. That is amazing.

Harold B. Phillips:


Robert K. Woltz:

It was a miracle, because it had just been infected and looked awful. So I saved my finger, my joint. I hope nobody else suffered as a result of my saving my finger. My arm would not heal. They took x-rays and it was a comminuted fracture. It was all broken up. It just simply would not heal, so had to have an operation. And this same surgeon that had saved my end joint of my middle finger did the operation and they had to put steel plates on it. I still have a steel plate, two steel plates in my left forearm. They don't bother me too much. And put skin grafts on the raw flesh of my finger joint and they bivalved the -- I'd had the cast off for about three months and it wouldn't heal and that's when they started to operate. And I think they had done the finger skin grafts before. I can't remember. Anyhow, they didn't have -- they had the bivalve cast on very loosely. Thank heavens they did.

I was in bed and they had my arm extended as much as could with the cast hanging up like that to keep the blood from rushing to it. And my arm and everything was so inflamed that there was not a visible wrinkle in my fingers. They looked like sausages, so puffed up. And I don't know, that pain, I guess, was almost as bad as the pain when I had my wreck, but it was pretty bad, but I did not want to be dependent on morphine. I remember the head nurse would come along and ask me if I wanted some morphine and I said, well, it hurts, but I don't believe I'll have any yet. And then finally it would get so bad I'd be drumming my feet on the bottom of the bed and she'd come by and I'd say, yeah, I'll take some.

Well, I can understand some of these people maybe who get highs off of cocaine, cocaine and other drugs because there I would be hurting just miserably in pain, come along and give me a shot of that morphine and, man, you'd just relax and everything got dreamy and you'd go to sleep just something great. At any rate, I resisted it as much as I reasonably could. And after about four or five days I didn't need anymore morphine and I was getting better, but it was still puffed up and inflamed and I got sent to another hospital and I was there -- I think this was another hospital. Give me maybe a little treatment of some sort, but __+.

I think maybe for those who were not as acutely injured or wounded or sick or whatnot whereas the other one was maybe more for acute cases. And stayed there and then was able to walk around. You know, I was fully ambulatory all the time. When I got off that plane from France I didn't have my glasses, but I could walk and see a little bit. And then from that hospital nothing in particular happened except I read a great deal. I remember reading one of C.S. Lewis's books. I didn't know about it and hadn't read it and, I think, the one where he writes about __ or something like that and enjoyed that book. Read a whole lot of other books too.

Old boy from Augusta County was in that hospital with me too and not too much education, but he was reading and he read Lytton Strachey's "The Victorian" [sic. "Eminent Victorians"]. And he was shocked at all the things those people did back in that day. Royalty and everything, you know. They were not extremely moral. I remember him talking to me about that.

So finally it was time to come home and I came home in style. I came home on the Elizabeth. Elizabeth I that was. And had a whole stateroom to myself. The stateroom they didn't have just one bed. A stateroom they had these pipes that made it sort of a network and they put springs or something into a strip, I guess it was, and put mattresses on them so you had -- and they were built up about three high so you had maybe say nine or a dozen beds in one stateroom, but I had this stateroom all to myself and it was very delightful coming back. The food was better for some reason or at least it seemed to me that it was and the trip was shorter. We landed in New York and I had USO and Red Cross and everything to welcome us and so forth.

They asked me what I wanted. The first thing I wanted was a glass of milk. That was my first time. I hadn't had a glass of milk in ages. I was glad to get back to New York and see the Statue of Liberty. That was great to see. While I was in New York waiting to ship overseas I went to a USO off of 42nd Street and Broadway and ran into a girl I knew that came from outside Charlottesville and she was working, putting in volunteer hours at the USO doing her part and so forth. I ran into her. So we got on the train. I don't think I stayed in New York. I think I got on the train that same day and headed south. I was posted to a military hospital in Jackson, Mississippi. I thought they could pick out something a little closer to home for me, but they didn't. So it was great to see the Statue of Liberty, but that night when I knew we'd hit Washington and I heard the train wheels click clacking over the Potomac River bridge, that's when I said I'm home. Back to old Virginia.

So went on, we went through Atlanta and then finally got to Jackson and went to the hospital and I was recuperating there and they gave me one time, they gave me, and I had forgotten about this, but they gave me a 60 day pass one time because I was able to get around, but they were mostly giving me physiotherapy. Putting my hand in a big barrel and have a whirlpool and everything. And as a result of that I lost a ring my mother gave me. The ring came off, went down the drain. But after I had been there for awhile they gave me this long pass and so I saw family and visited all around one thing, another. And then from there I was shipped to Camp Picket, later Fort Picket and I think it's been disbanded now and that was where they were supposed to get you ready for civilian life again.

They had arts and crafts and things, __+, all kinds of stuff like that and there wasn't a whole lot to do and you sort of took it easy and you got little classes on different things. I might say, yeah, I think this was at Picket, so I'll get to that in a minute. Well, lo and behold here I ran into an old fellow, Mark Gayner (ph). He was an older fellow who had been in my unit at Camp Lee, in the induction unit. Now instead of taking people in mostly they were turning them out. They would still take them in because the war was still going on, but we had had VE Day. And as a matter of fact, VE Day I was on a train coming from Camp Picket to Salem. I think that was when I had my 60 day pass.

And learned in Lynchburg while they were changing engines there, because I was on the southern from Petersburg to Lynchburg, then it changed over to north and west and they're all the same railroad now. And when they'd change railroads tracks and train you had to change the engine crew and all that. So while they were changing at Lynchburg I heard that VE day which was great. Saw this old fellow, Yeager, there at Camp Picket and he said he had -- possibility he might have a chance to go over to Germany and be with the occupying forces and I encouraged him to do it. I said it's a wonderful experience going over to Europe even though you go as I have said, you go overseas and a lot of difference between going overseas and going abroad, but I encouraged him to go and I don't know whether he did or not, but I tried to persuade he ought to go. It would be a real experience for him. So the 60 days off I spent it with my family and visited with relatives and just had a great time. Went back to Picket and they were getting -- still preparing to get me into civilian life which was totally unnecessary.

They gave me a train ticket to get from there to Salem. I took one step out of Camp Picket and I was one hundred percent a civilian again. They didn't need to waste time with me. One step out of camp and I was hundred percent civilian again. During that 60 days I did visit the university and saw some of the people I knew there at the university and saw track meets and some things like that, but I was still in uniform at that time. So got home and I didn't have -- it always troubled me, I didn't have a very lucky military career and I don't think other than just being another head to count that I helped the war effort too much. Maybe getting bunged up like I was and taking up a hospital bed maybe I was as much a liability as I was a help, but I think maybe I was a little more help for the war effort than I was a drag on it.

And I didn't want -- at Camp Picket had to go before a board, a discharge board because I had been injured and they had to evaluate, number one, should I be discharged and I didn't want to be discharged. Still a war going on. And as long as there was a war going on, damn it, I wanted to be part of it, but they decided, I guess, that I wasn't fit for military service so they ordered me discharged. And then some people came around, Red Cross, I think, and said now you ought to apply for disability. And I said I don't want any disability. I can take care of myself. Well, they just insisted and brought forms to me. Practically __ me into applying for disability so I did. I applied for disability and I got ten percent disability. And I still draw a little disability payment. When it started out, I think, it was something like nine dollars a month. Now it's up to something like a hundred dollars a month. I still draw it. Maybe I shouldn't. I have a plan. It's not germane to __+ of -- if I could get Congress to __ proper act for people who are receiving money from the government that they don't really need they put it as a silent trust fund so instead of the Veteran's Administration sending me my monthly check they put it in this trust fund to pay off the debt, but it would have to be tightly written so that Congress couldn't get their hands on it and use it for other things, but that's what I'd like to do and I don't guess I'll ever be able to do it, but that was my idea.

Well, I did some more visiting and went to Baltimore and visited Stewart Bell's wife's brother who was a good friend of mine. He was still in the navy and he was stationed at Baltimore and __+. And before I had gone there I had gone up town to my regular barber shop and this newspaper came out in big headline and I misread it to mean automatic bomb dropped. You know, I didn't pick up the paper and read it. Somebody was reading it and threw it down on the pit. Automatic bomb dropped and I thought, yeah, that's a bunch of baloney. All the headlines came out about new weapons and great victories and so on and it wasn't all true. And I figured this was another one of those things.

Well, then when I did see the paper and read it, it was atomic bomb dropped and I said, well, that is something. That's really something. And that was on Hiroshima, I guess. I've forgotten which was first. Nagasaki, I think. And that broke the Japs will and within a few days they surrendered which made me feel better. The war was over and I didn't have to feel so bad about being a civilian again. And I got out. I think I went in July 13th and I think I got out something like July 16th so that was three years and three days of military service. And if I can sum up my service -- or I might mention while I was in the hospital over here I got a letter from my little friend's father saying he had been killed.

Harold B. Phillips:

That's too bad.

Robert K. Woltz:

He'd gone to a house where the Gestapo had been and they had left some things, I think, it was a grenade that he had picked up and fooled around and it went off. Blew off his hand. Blew out his left eye, broke his left ear drum and his father wrote that __+. Took him to Paris eventually because he said they operated on him there in La Fleche in the cold weather. And no heat in the hospital. Just didn't have the fuel for it. Eventually got him to Paris and his father went as high as he could in the military to try to get some penicillin for him. Couldn't get any. Of course, he had shrapnel in his chest and abdomen and infection and died.

Harold B. Phillips:

One of the many innocent victims. Have you been back to France at all?

Robert K. Woltz:

Yes, I've been back three times, I guess. I've never been back to La Fleche. I never had an opportunity really to get back. And I wish I had. My first time back in France or even my last time back in France this Frenchman, well, I'm sure he's dead by now, but I might have seen the family, some of his children and visited the grave. As you can tell it really cut me up. After all these years still hard for me to take. Well, I have to get control of myself.

Harold B. Phillips:

Want to stop it for a minute?

Robert K. Woltz:

No, that's all right. I've recovered. I hate to act this way.

Harold B. Phillips:

That's human.

Robert K. Woltz:

It's not fair. So I'll sum up my military career this way. It was not a stellar career. I hope that I was more help than a hindrance to the war effort and what I tell people is I would not...


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  October 26, 2011
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